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Guide to Looking for Used Macs for Your Hauptwerk System

2015-03-02 - Hauptwerk Technical

Peer Pressure?

So, you're looking for a Mac Pro but you nearly had a heart attack from the sticker shock. 

Everyone told you that you needed a Mac for Hauptwerk but you've looked at Dell selling PCs for $500 and then you see these Macs for $5000+ when you get it loaded. What gives?

Don't despair. There is hope. There are lots of perfectly good, previous generation Mac Pros on the market that would be great and are often a fraction of the cost because they look nothing like the new Mac Pros.

Why A Mac for Hauptwerk Anyway? 

We end up talking about this a lot with customers because it's confusing. However, here is the rationale from my perspective as a manufacturer and provider of tech support for Hauptwerk:

1) The hardware is of high quality and is a consistent, known quantity.

As someone who provides complete Hauptwerk systems, the last thing I want to do is ship a system from Toronto to a remote location and have problems. That is a complete nightmare but it can happen. So, I always want to make sure that what I'm shipping is highly unlikely to break down. And, in the event that it does break down, I want there to be some sort of local support so that the customer doesn't have to pay big bucks to ship it back to me. 

This is where Apple comes in. The hardware is generally server (or enterprise) grade (particularly on the Mac Pros) which means it's rated to work harder, last longer and be used in mission-critical situations where breaking down is not an option. See this article discussing different grades of Solid State Drives as an example.

The most I've ever had break down on a system was a wireless mouse that died. The customer went to the local Apple store and picked up a replacement under warranty. 

For situations where the computer is out of warranty, the important thing for getting/giving support is knowing exactly what's in the computer. Do you know if a 5 year old mother board has native or driver conflicts with a particular graphics card or hard drive? Me neither. With Macs, you don't have to worry about whether or not hardware works together, they have done all that testing. If a part is broken, you just get another one of those parts and you're fine. If your brother-in-law put the computer together, who knows what's in there and if all the stuff worked properly together, and with the software, in the first place. Troubleshooting that scenario is extremely frustrating for all concerned.

2) The operating system is more friendly to audio applications than Windows out of the box.

Apple operating systems have always prioritized audio and video processes differently than Windows. Apple has kept utility processes at a lower priority than audio and video processes. They've always recognized that A/V applications are very time sensitive and that interrupting them can ruin the experience.

Windows, on the other hand, is like the insensitive relative who walks into the Concert Hall while you are in the middle of playing your masterpiece and yells "has anyone seen any new wireless networks around here?". To prevent the jerk from coming in to ruin things, you have to disable any of his potential access points into the building. You also have to prevent this person from upgrading the instrument you've been breaking in and practicing on for a brand new instrument that hasn't been tested for defects immediately before your concert. 

Once you've taken the time and steps to lock out this relative, things go pretty smoothly. Likewise, once you've taken the time or paid someone to disable all of those pesky automatic processes, your Windows machine should work fine unless something from point number 1 goes wrong.  

If something does happen to go wrong with Apple related software though, there will be thousands of people in the same boat because they all have the exact same hardware and thousands of people blogging with solutions (or pushing Apple for a fix). It's not a perfect situation but it's closer to perfect than the alternatives.

New vs. Old

Buying a new Mac vs. buying a used Mac is pretty much the same debate as buying a brand new car vs. a used; If you are concerned about not knowing where it's been, how it's been used, and you want manufacturer's warranties, you go with a new car and the price is premium. However, you get the satisfaction and confidence that the car will perform well for a long time with little to no trouble.

On the other hand, if you know your way around a car, think you can tell if something is in good shape and aren't petrified of what to do if something goes wrong, then go ahead and get a used Mac. The great thing with Macs is that you're generally pretty safe with a used one for the reasons outlined above.

Where Do I Look For A Used Mac?

Personally, I like to use or to look for older Macs. You're generally buying from individuals rather than computer retailers. However, you can set the search parameters to "Dealer only" if you want to only work with a retailer. 

What Should I Look For?

Even if you don't want to put a lot of RAM in your machine right now, I always suggest that you get a machine with the capacity to add more in the future. I like there to be the option of having at least 32GB of RAM.

Macs have model numbers that you can refer to. However, they are more easily recognized by their model dates. They have names like "Mac Pro (Mid 2012) or Mac Pro (late 2013). 

The oldest model Mac Pro I would recommend right now would be the Mac Pro (Early 2008) - model MacPro3,1. You can put up to 32GB of RAM in it and it will run the latest version of Mac OS X (10.10 Yosemite at the time of this writing). So, even in the event that it won't run the next version of OS X, you'll still be pretty current for quite some time.

I would look for a total of 8 cores (2 of whichever processor are in there i.e 2 x 2.8GHz or 2 x 3.2 GHz. This will make sure that you're not terribly far behind in processing power either.

Of course, anything newer than the Early 2008 Mac Pros is fine. 

Look for one that has as much RAM in it as possible already (less for you to do). However, if you get a smokin' deal on one without as much RAM as you want, it's really easy to add more RAM later.

If you can find a unit that still has Apple Care coverage on it (Apple's extended warranty program), that's a good deal. It means that the unit is still under warranty. That coverage is specific to the machine and not to the owner. So it transfers to you automatically when you purchase the computer. This is good.

Resources For Evaluating What You Find

MacTracker - A program for OS X and iOS. It lets you look up the specs for every Mac ever on the market. My favourite part about it is that it tells you how much RAM Apple says you can put in the device as well as what it can really hold. There are many models where Apple says they'll only take 16GB when it will actually hold 32GB. Before you ask why: they do it so you'll upgrade to a model that officially handles the extra amount.

Checking serial numbers to see what model it is - if you're in any doubt of what model you have, you can plug the serial number into this website and it will tell you all about what you've got.

Checking Apple Care - if you have access to the serial number, this site will let you check the warranty status of your Mac.

Adding extra RAM to your Mac- Once you know what model of Mac Pro you have (e.g Early 2008), you can go somewhere like this to find RAM for that particular model.


dowdds (2015-07-01) Log in to Reply
How important is the clock speed if we look for a used mac?
DarrylLeeWood (2015-07-02) Log in to Reply
Not very in my opinion. Just get as many cores as you can and as much RAM as you can. Hauptwerk is far more RAM intensive than it is processor intensive unless you are planning a large, multi-channel system. If you are planning to do a lot of multi-channeling, then you need to worry about clock speeds (i.e get as fast as you can on as many cores as you can)
dowdds (2015-07-03) Log in to Reply
Thank You. John
Keys61 (2015-03-04) Log in to Reply
Another route to go, is "factory refurbished." Purchased directly from Apple. You won't save as much money, as you would buying from a third party, but you will know exactly what you are getting, and it will be backed by a warranty from Apple. I've bought a few Apple products this way, and have been completely satisfied.
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